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Debra Duke

Professor of the Practice and Director of Fundamentals of Computing, Department of Computer Science | Computer Science

Richmond, VA, UNITED STATES, East Hall, E4250

Professor Duke is a computer scientist focused on learning and engagement strategies



Debra Duke is a principal investigator on a multi-university study to improve student learning in introductory programming and software development courses through the use of learning engagement strategies, such as problem-based learning, gamification, and social interaction. The team’s long-term goal is to provide an adaptive cyberlearning environment that enriches students’ conceptual understanding and practical skills.

Debra is an avid POGIL practitioner and is a trained POGIL workshop facilitator. POGIL is an acronym for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning. It is a student-centered approach to learning in which small teams of students work together on carefully designed and focused learning activities that enable them to construct important course concepts and cultivate lifelong learning skills.

Areas of Expertise

Computer Science Education


Virginia Commonwealth University

M.S., Computer Science


University of South Florida

B.S., Clinical Chemistry



  • American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE)
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

Media Appearances

Amazon Deal Puts Pressure On State To Boost Tech Faculty, Student Investments

WCVE  online


According to analysis by Moret’s group, Virginia produces about 1,700 graduates in computer science related fields every year. That figure includes both undergrad and grad students. And now, there’s additional pressure on universities to produce more tech-related graduates. As part of the deal to lure Amazon to Virginia, the state has vowed to double the number of graduates in computer science and related fields over the next two decades. Moret thinks Virginia can get there sooner than that. Moret: We're going to need a lot of new faculty. More specifically, he thinks the state needs 170-270 more faculty members over the next 5-7 years. To help them get there, he and others have crafted a “tech talent investment fund” to help universities recruit - and retain - faculty. Moret says the idea is to ask for $1.1 billion in state support for the fund over the next two decades. Budwell (left) and Duke both left industry jobs to teach. (Photo M. Pauly)Budwell (left) and Duke both left industry jobs to teach. (Photo M. Pauly)But recruiting faculty into these fields isn’t easy, especially given that private or public sector jobs pay up to three times the salary of a professor. Debra Duke is undergraduate computer science director at Richmond’s Virginia Commonwealth University.

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Event Appearances

Guiding Students to Discover CS Concepts and Develop Process Skills Using POGIL (Workshop Presenter)

50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education  Minneapolis, MN


POGIL in Computer Science for Beginners and Experts (Birds of a Feather Speaker)

50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education  Minneapolis, MN


Research Grants

Collaborative Research: Engaged Student Learning - Design and Development Level II: Using a Cyberlearning Environment to Improve Student Learning and Engagement in Software Courses

NSF $102,613.00

Due to the ubiquitous nature of software in the 21st century, there is a great and increasing demand for software developers and programmers in the US. Both Computer Science (CS) and Information Technology (IT) academicians and practitioners agree that a comprehensive strategy to improve the number and quality of 21st century CS/IT workforce is needed. This project will assist colleges and universities in producing more well-qualified software developers through the use of a cyberlearning environment that builds on and extends WReSTT-CyLE (Web-Based Repository of Software Testing Tutorials), a cyberlearning environment for software testing.

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CMSC 256: Data Structures & Object Oriented Programming

Semester course; 3 lecture and 2 laboratory hours. 4 credits. Prerequisite: CMSC 255 with a minimum grade of C; corequisite: CMSC 302. Advanced programming using Java. Topics include introduction to object-oriented design, inheritance, polymorphism, exceptions, interfaces, linked lists, stacks, queues, binary trees, recursion, and basic searching and sorting techniques. Continued focus on program testing and UML notation. Students may not receive credit for both CMSC 256 and INFO 350.

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CMSC 355. Software Engineering: Specification and Design

Provides an overview of the software engineering process and software life-cycle models. Gives a detailed study of the analysis, specification and design phases. Students will work in teams to gain experience in software development methodology, developing specification and design documents and developing a prototype.

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CMSC 508. Database Theory.

Design and implementation of relational database systems. Emphasis is placed on entity-relationship diagrams, relational algebra, normal forms and normalization. Introduction to SQL. Discussion of physical level issues.

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Selected Articles

Evaluating the Impact of Combination of Engagement Strategies in SEP - CyLE on Improve Student Learning of Programming Concepts | The 50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, SIGCSE 2019

Mourya Reddy Narasareddygari, Gursimran S. Walia, Debra M. Duke, Vijayalakshmi Ramasamy, James Kiper, Debra Davis, Andrew Allen, and Geoffrey Potvin

Programming is a fundamental part of the computer science curriculum and is often considered problematic. It is an intellectual activity which can be learned by learning basic programming concepts and then practicing a lot. First-year students often encounter difficulties grasping basic programming concepts, and many either drop out or do not learn concepts well even after completing their courses. The high dropout and failure rates in introductory programming courses are a universal problem that motivated numerous researchers to propose techniques and tools to encourage students. The last few years we have been working on SEP-CyLE (Software Engineering and Programming – A CyberLearning Environment), which includes Learning objects (LOs)—small chunks of information that are self-contained and reusable and different engagement strategies to support student learning in CS1 classrooms. The SEP-CyLE contains a variety of LOs that span computer programming and software engineering concepts. Our research sought specific knowledge deficiencies of incoming and outgoing CS1 students to guide the development of LOs in the SEP-CyLE. This paper reports the data collected at 5 major universities that utilized the pre/posttest instrument to measure whether the students had any knowledge deficiencies and whether the SEP-CyLE had any impact on the improvement in their learning. The results indicated that many students across the sites have knowledge of deficiencies in memory management, loops, conditional statements, arrays, basic operators, methods OOPs concepts, and software testing concepts. The results did not differ in terms of knowledge deficiencies at different institutions.

Students’Perceptions of the Implementation of a Cyberlearning Tool | ASEE Conference and Exposition, ASEE’2019

• Debra M. Duke, M. O Thirunarayanan, Abigail Byram and Peter J. Clarke

A cyberlearning tool was developed to facilitate teaching and learning of software engineering courses. The tool, SEP-CyLE (Software Engineering and Programming Cyberlearning Environment), was developed by a publicly funded research university and is currently being used by at least seven other universities across the United States of America. The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided funding for the development and implementation of the tool. Since its initial development, the scope of the tool has been expanded for use in other university-level computer science courses.

The three learning engagement strategies (LESs) that are an integral part of the tool are (i) collaboration, (ii) gamification, and (iii) social interaction. This paper focuses on the gamification strategy that was implemented in multiple sections of an introductory computer programming course at a university that was one of the locations for the multi-site project funded by the NSF.

A study was conducted to determine students’ perceptions of the cyberlearning tool and how it was implemented. Data for the study were obtained through interview and focus group sessions. The data were transcribed to extract the major ideas expressed by the students during the interview and focus group sessions. The findings are presented and discussed. The usefulness of the tool and the motivational aspects of the gamification strategy are explored as well. The paper provides suggestions from students for improving the tool and recommendations on how SEP-CyLE should be implemented in classrooms.

The main contributions of this work are as follows:
1. The cyberlearning environment or tool that was developed with funding from the NSF was considered to be useful and user-friendly by students who used the tool.
2. Gamification was considered by students to be motivating.
3. Students suggested that the tool should be used as an integral part of the course rather than as an add-on.

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Lessons Learned using a Cyber Learning Environment in CS1 Classrooms | ASEE Conference and Exposition, ASEE’2019


Otto Borchert, Abigail Byram, Debra Duke, Alex Radermacher, Mourya Reddy Narasareddygari and Gursimran Singh Walia

The Software Engineering and Programming Cyber Learning Environment (SEP-CyLE) is a web-based platform to supplement standard course materials in CS1, CS2, software engineering, and software testing courses. In SEP-CyLE, students complete learning objects (LOs) and tutorials that cover topics which are not always discussed directly in lecture or in labs. SEP-CyLE also includes a series of learning and engagement strategies to encourage and instruct students. This experience report provides a brief background on the platform as well as information on how SEP-CyLE can be used by students and faculty. The paper continues by relaying specific successes and failures of using SEP-CyLE in CS1 courses at two separate research universities. The paper concludes with a discussion of the process for developing new learning objects for SEP-CyLE and their use in CS1 courses with an eye towards future modules and work to be done.

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